Solitude

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People contort themselves around the terror of being alone, making any compromise against that. It’s a great freedom to give up on love, and get on with everything else.

- Harrison Shepherd (The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver)

In the midst of a gentle rain while these thoughts prevailed, I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sound and sight around my house, an infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once like an atmosphere sustaining me, as made the fancied advantages of human neighborhood insignificant, and I have never thought of them since. Every little pine needle expanded and swelled with sympathy and befriended me. I was so distinctly made aware of the presence of something kindred to me, even in scenes which we are accustomed to call wild and dreary, and also that the nearest of blood to me and humanest was not a person nor a villager, that I thought no place could ever be strange to me again.

-HDT, Walden

Sweet Summer

Wildflowers in the garden!

Wildflowers in the vegetable garden!

Not having internet except at work this summer has been wonderful – so wonderful, in fact, that I’m not sure I’ll go back to having internet (particularly since TWC was horrible to deal with). This has been the busiest and most wonderful summer in years, even with all of the thesis scrambling/working I’ve been doing.

Guess which day I hiked Katahdin...

Guess which day I hiked Katahdin…

I’ve started running three miles a day and hiking on Saturdays. I feel more in shape than I have in years, which is most awesome simply because it means I can do more. A day when I spend more time outside than in is a day well spent in my book.

Hanging out the wash

Hanging out the wash

I have been spending most weekends at the lake, relishing in the (comparative) silence and learning to identify plants with my savvy mother. I’ve also been helping my dad out in the garden most weekends, which I love to do (but don’t tell him that, or he’ll make me weed the onions again). Gardening is a family connection for us – my grandfather kept a garden at his house, which I helped him with when I was young.

Mumsie in the garden

Mumsie in the garden

I have felt so calm and full of love lately. Summer has always been my favorite season, and I’m appreciating it so much this year since we had such a long, long, LONG winter. I can’t get enough of the long, warm days, starry nights, and summer sounds.

Exploring the bike path with my favorites

Exploring the bike path with my favorites

I have also been having so much fun watching The Goob grow into a little man. He seems to learn a new word every day (once you hear the words “yeah” and “wow” repeated back to you perfectly, you learn to start watching what you say) and is the smartest little being I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. There is never a lack of adventures with Ariel and The Goob, and watching him see things with his eager eyes makes the world seem new and beautiful every day. I am so lucky to have them in my life.

But enough sap. What have y’all been up to?

Hiking Alone

This morning, my family woke up to no power and a dock that had been smashed to pieces. I suppose that’s the way hurricane remnants treat New England – it’s no skin off my nose, really, even though my dad and I spent an entire afternoon putting the docks in. That’s just the way things go sometimes, I guess.

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I have had the rare privilege of a week off this week, particularly cherished because it has been finally summer-hot here in Maine, which would have been unbearable in the city (central air is not common up here) but was undeniably perfect for a trip to the lake. The weather held out until the Katahdin trip I took with my sister and brother-in-law, when the skies opened up as soon as we entered Baxter State Park. It stopped raining long enough for us to set up our tents and eat dinner. It stormed all night, but the morning dawned without further rain and we headed up the Helon Taylor trail towards the famous Knife’s Edge.

As has been my MO recently, I left my camera (phone) in the car and traveled with my senses only. Alice and Andrew happily left me in the dust (a phrase used for its cliche only, considering the fact that everything was wet and the only “dust” was a cloud of particularly carnivorous black flies), and I learned something I had never had the privilege to discover: I love to hike alone.

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I am not a speedy or tremendously athletic person, so I’m either the person in the back who everybody has to wait for or the one in the front causing a pile-up. In telling my siblings to head on up to the Knife’s Edge without me, I found that alone, I could hike as far and as fast as I wanted. I could stop to chat with the people I met on my way down. I could sit in a sunny spot above the treeline and eat my banana and peanut butter at the speed of a torpid sloth. I could stop at the impossibly clear river and wipe the black fly blood from my ears, arms, and legs. I could whip out my tiny notebook and write down the words and phrases that came to me like music from the woods.

In fewer words, I found freedom. The freedom of being as much of a bird nerd as I wanted (I had accidentally and fortuitously brought my field guide up the mountain with me). The freedom of stopping mid trail for no reason to sniff the air and savor the song of the Hermit Thrush. To learn from my eyes and my ears (and my Sibley guide) that it is the white-throated sparrow that calls “Old Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody.”

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I didn’t do the Knife’s Edge. I barely made it to Pamola peak, and having made it to Baxter peak two years ago, I didn’t feel the need to push myself. As it is, it has been two days and I still can barely walk, but I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything. The Maine forest has something to say, and even though I can’t hear it unless I hike like an easily distracted tortoise, I can’t wait for my next adventure.

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Gratitude

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Today I am grateful for the people who see when you need a pick-me-up. My coworker, Houri, brought this for me today, and whether or not she knew it, I really needed it.

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I am also immensely grateful for all of the friends and family who have been so excellent to me in this particularly trying time. I couldn’t do it without y’all.

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Some day, hopefully soon, I will have the energy (and Internet) for a full blog post. Stay tuned for a hopefully plastic-free July. Also, any hints, tips, tricks, bamboozles, cults, swindles, etc. to help me sleep are welcome. In fact, I beg you for them.

(I have already tried: Melatonin, only drinking decaf, over the counter sleep aids, reserving the bed only for sleep, reading until I fall asleep, not looking at screens for an hour before bed, keeping the cats shut out, earplugs, eye masks, going to bed at the same time, and voodoo.)

Change

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Everybody knows that spring is the season of change. Except that probably isn’t true, since spring doesn’t really exist in its one-of-four-seasons sense in most of the world, and, really, any season shift is a change. Actually, everything changes constantly – did you know that the you that existed in the past is gone? And I don’t mean this in the sense of having changed and grown as a human being. I mean the cells that make up your body are not the cells that used to make up your body.

Even though our lives are made of change, it seems we spend a lot of time and energy making sure that they remain the same. We crave stability. But stability makes for a boring life sometimes, and ignoring the inevitability of change is bound to lead to suffering (in the Buddhist sense of the word).

Mindfulness, being aware of the details of the current moment, and also being aware that the current moment is always moving, no matter how slowly, is something I have been working on for about a year. And this year has given me no lack of challenges to test my ability to be mindful. I have stalled and re-started more times than someone learning how to drive, but there is no denying that I have at least made some progress.

I suppose it is best to stop beating around the bush; I ramble now about change because change is my life right now. I have no sense of where I will be in six months. I have no job lined up and no sense of where I want to pursue a job. This is partially terrifying, but also exhilarating. I could spew clichés about the world and graduation and oh the places I’ll go, but really, all I want to do is climb into my life canoe and drift for a little while. That doesn’t mean I’ll be waiting for a job to come to me – quite the opposite, actually, once I get around to it…but I also don’t feel anxious about getting around to it.

The other big change, which I relay with more sadness than excitement, is that Sean and I have decided to part ways. There is no denying that we have had a special relationship, and that is something I will cherish forever, but, to quote one of my least favorite TV characters, “The sun has set on our day in the sun.”

And that’s really all I have to say about that right now.

Birds and Bikes

I’m not at all apologetic about being AWOL from this blog. Even though I have been making nothing but delicious food and going on awesome adventures.

Spring has finally sprung in Maine, complete with breathtaking sunsets, delectable 65 degree days, and smash-you-in-the-face allergies.

Down by the river with Ariel and Oliver.

Down by the river with Ariel and Oliver.

Count the types of clouds! If you're a nerd...

Count the types of clouds! If you’re a nerd…

My favorite part about spring this far has been the fly fishing. Well, I haven’t been doing the fishing, but Sean and Max have been, and it just so happens that there are a lot of birds that hang out by the river. Bird nerd heaven, I tell you.

Sean atop his hill.

Sean atop his hill.

We’ve also been doing quite a bit of biking, since Sean has upgraded his mountain bike and is eager to get some miles on the wheels. Eager to piggyback on some more time in the woods, I’ve been tagging along, albeit a bit more slowly. And, well, I also have a thing for going down random trails, so I might be a bit of a distraction when it comes to actually biking.

Anyway, today while Sean was bombing through the rock-riddled trails and I was staring up at the sky trying not to fall on my face, I heard my favorite bird, the ethereal hermit thrush. I wish I could put the feeling the hermit thrush gives me into poetry, but instead I’ll direct you to YouTube, where you can hear it for yourself.

This time, though, I actually saw the thrush, which is pretty rare, since they’re quite shy. Just another day in Maine.

Morning naptime!

Morning naptime!

So…there it is! Random pictures, rambling about birds and bicycles, and maybe I’ll see you again in another month!

Also, here’s something delicious I made for Sean for his birthday:

Meyer Lemon and Chocolate Marble Cake

Ice Out!

If you recall, this is what the ice-in looked like. Sure, those Maine winter images are a white wonderland, but we all know how exciting ice-out can be…

"The ice that we skate is getting pretty thin..."

“The ice that we skate is getting pretty thin…”

And thinner...

And thinner…

Here it goes!

Here it goes!

Bam!

Bam!

What with all this ice and snow melting, especially up north, the Stillwater is getting a little big for her britches…

Oops.

Oops.

Picnic, anyone?

Picnic, anyone?

People complain about mud season – and, really, we’re not on the far side of winter yet – but I’m loving the increasing number of robins singing in the morning, the length of the days, the warmth of the sun, and the cheer of my fellow winter survivors.

Plus, who doesn’t love puddle-jumping?

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Spanish Rice Burritos

Whether or not you have noticed that I have taken a bit of a blog hiatus, as I tend to do from time-to-time, here I am to update you on my life yet again! Thanks to my insane semester and those other lovely hiccups that life throws at us, my zero waste grocery endeavor has been entirely derailed. Each week, for the past few weeks, I have stood in the checkout line, burning with shame, glancing around and waiting for someone to catch me red handed – “You, hey you! Hey, aren’t you the one who tells everybody to avoid packaging? What’s with those mushrooms? What’s with those chips? Crackers?! Microwaveable pouches of Indian food? Oh my god, are those individually wrapped cheese sticks?!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I bought individually wrapped cheese sticks. I bought microwaveable meals that come in individual plastic pouches. Even typing those words makes me shiver with the indignity of it all. But when you’re spending a large amount of time and energy just trying to get your ailing cat and friend to eat, you stop caring about the plastic. Or you at least swallow your guilt and shame and buy the damn things so that somebody has something to eat.

Wait - I thought I went to the grocery store for food, not cats.

Wait – I thought I went to the grocery store for food, not cats.

I have mentioned before about how reducing the amount of food packaging that we consume is a big challenge for me, and like I’ve said before, it’s a process. Right now, I’m more focused on local than packaging (fun fact – Maine was voted the 2nd best state behind Vermont for eating local). I visit the farmer’s market every other weekend (I can’t wait for it to be every weekend, starting in May!), buy my local meat from the NLC, get only local cheese from our Hannaford, local bread, local tomatoes (shout-out to Backyard Farms!), local yogurt, and local milk. I am still buying some things in bulk – beans, oats, coffee, nuts – but otherwise, I’m just buying what we need to get ourselves through to the end of the semester.

Anyway, that brings me to this week’s meal: Chorizo burritos with improvised Spanish rice. I could eat at our local burrito place, Verve, every day, but since I can’t afford that, I brought them to our house, healthified.

Pardon our disastrous kitchen. Who has time to clean?

Pardon our disastrous kitchen. Who has time to clean?

Improvised Spanish Brown Rice

Ingredients:

1 cup brown rice

1.5 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1 – 4 oz. can diced green chiles

1 medium onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 tomatoes, diced

Olive oil

Directions:

1. Put the rice and liquid in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit another 15-20 minutes.

2. When the rice is in its off-the-heat steaming stage, sauté the onions in olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet until translucent. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic and starting to brown.

3. Add the rice, tomatoes, and chiles to the pan and stir until incorporated and most of the extra liquid (from the tomatoes) has evaporated. Remove from heat and taste for salt (I didn’t add any because the chicken stock was salted).

Chorizo/Red Kidney Bean Burritos

This is more of a combination suggestion than a recipe – this will likely last the two of us for at least three dinners.

Ingredients:

Whole wheat tortillas – we use the large Mission wraps

Spring mix

Avocado mashed with a little bit of salt and lime

Plain nonfat Greek yogurt

Monterey Jack cheese, grated

Spanish rice (recipe above)

Chorizo sausage, removed from casings and cooked (if vegetarian, omit and put more beans on your burrito)

Red kidney beans, soaked overnight and cooked with a bay leaf and a pinch of salt until soft (or from a can)

Directions:

1. Line up your ingredients on the counter and go wild. Just don’t go so wild that your burrito won’t close.

Th-th-th-that's all, folks!

Th-th-th-that’s all, folks!

The fine print:

Okay, I couldn’t help myself – I was curious about the origins and zw-ness of all of my ingredients, so here’s a little summary:

Local:

Tomatoes (Backyard Farms, no packaging)

Monterey Jack (Pineland Farms, plastic packaging)

Chorizo (Wee Bit Farm, plastic packaging)

Red kidney beans (Farmer’s market…can’t remember which farm, paper bag)

Not local, unpackaged:

Brown rice

Onion

Garlic

Avocado

Lime

Not local, recyclable packaging:

Chicken stock (aluminum)

Diced green chiles (aluminum)

Spring mix (plastic)

Not local, LANDFILL:

Tortillas (plastic bag)

Zero Waste Cat Toys

Have you ever noticed that cat toys are all made of plastic, come wrapped in plastic, and disappear never to return shortly after? Well, maybe you don’t have a cat, or you have a large stash of Dr. Pussum’s, or you grow your own ‘nip…but I’ll wager that most cat owners have a lot of plastic toys that are either lost or never used.

Chandler checks out his new toy.

Chandler checks out his new toy while LO waits her turn (not so) patiently.

As I was going through my sock collection the other day, I discovered a stray that hasn’t had a mate in years…yet I still keep it (is this a form of grief?). I also had a bag of catnip sitting around, so I emptied it into the sock, tied a knot, and handed it over to the fiends. They couldn’t keep their paws off it.

So happy.

So happy.

I have found that cats don’t like store-bought toys as much. They’d rather play with an old sock, a box, an old shoelace…and why should we feel the need to get them something “fancier”? If you are cutting down on your own possessions, why not donate your old cat toys to a shelter and keep only the toys your kitties really love?

How to Respect Pedestrians and Be a Respectful Pedestrian

I have spoken before about my walking commute to and from campus. It is truly something I look forward to every day, mostly because it gives me time to be in (relative) nature and essentially meditate while moving. Unfortunately, I occasionally find my calm contemplation interrupted by motorists who are hurrying about their day with little care for who they mow over on their way. Fortunately, the majority of the people I encounter are kind, courteous, and respectful. But a lot of people do things that I am sure they do not realize are extremely threatening and rude to pedestrians. Similarly, some pedestrians do not follow general etiquette, endangering themselves and annoying motorists. So here is a list I made of things that both motorists and pedestrians can do to make everybody’s lives a little more peaceful.

"How fast do you think he was going?!" "Oh, about 2 squirrels per minute."

“How fast do you think he was going?!”
“Oh, about 2 squirrels per minute.”

How to Respect Pedestrians and Be a Respectful Pedestrian

If you are in a vehicle: Stop at a crosswalk if you see someone waiting. Especially if it is pouring rain – you are in a warm, dry car, and they are likely getting soaked. Don’t expect them to hoof it – they have the right of way and not all disabilities are visible. Especially do not inch forward as though you are likely to run them over if they do not hurry up. If you have this kind of sentiment, you need a serious attitude adjustment.

If you are on foot: Use crosswalks. Do not leap out into the road unless a car has suitable distance to stop. Sure, you have the right of way, but vehicles cannot stop on a dime. Do not dawdle when you cross. Do not expect to be seen at night, even with high-visibility clothing on.

If you are in a vehicle: Try to avoid stopping in crosswalks. Do not try to turn as quickly as you can to avoid having to wait for a pedestrian, thereby making the pedestrian feel like you would rather run them over than wait.

If you are on foot: If a car is stopped in a crosswalk, say at the end of a road waiting to turn, make it clear that you intend to walk around behind them so that they can turn more promptly. Make eye contact (and if you’re in Maine, secure a wave) before crossing in front of a car that is waiting to turn. Chances are they will not see you otherwise.

If you are in a vehicle: Try to avoid honking at people you know unless you are certain they know your car. A wave or an “I saw you walking today!” phone call are preferable. If you don’t know them, then do not honk at them unless somehow your honk will save their life. Honking will likely scare the ever-living sh*t out of a pedestrian if they are anything like me. This is in the same category of “do nots” as catcalling, throwing bottles, and generally hollering. Find something else to do with your time.

If you are on foot: …I’m not sure there is anything you can do to avoid this. Some people are just rude, I guess.

If you are on foot: Use the sidewalk if there is one available. If there isn’t, walk on the side of the road that is against the flow of traffic. You will be more visible to cars this way, and they will likely give you a wide berth.

Really, what it comes down to, is try to be compassionate. If a car nearly runs me over in its haste to turn right, I allow myself the initial annoyance and then try to explain to myself that perhaps the occupant’s spouse was in labor or some similar emergency. If you find yourself late for an appointment and racing down the street to try to beat the light, try to keep in mind that the person waiting at the crosswalk also has places to go and things to do. Your objective may seem the most important to you at the time – we all get stuck in this mindset – but you may find that taking the time to view and treat others with compassion lessens the number of annoyances in your life.

Is there anything you wish pedestrians/motorists did differently? Weigh in on the discussion in the comments below!